“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
John 15:1-8 (NRSV)
It’s interesting that this week’s scripture is about vines and the way that they grow. As you know, my husband and I moved this past week. A few times, while taking a break from unpacking and trying to organize our lives in a new place, I took a walk around our yard, trying to notice and identify the flowers and bushes that are there. The gentleman that lived in the house before us loved to garden, and so there are lots of established plantings.
As we have had plenty of rain and a few nice sunny days, many of the bulbs are already in bloom. Trees are beginning to bud, and perennials are beginning to stretch their leaves and new growth toward the sky. I’m so excited to see what kinds of flowers will bring a splash of color and beauty to our yard this summer and a sense of joy to the people who see it. After reflecting on this week’s scripture reading, however, I have also noticed the dried up blossoms, the sticks, and the leaves that remain on and around some of the plants. They are dried up and brittle after the long winter because they are no longer connected to the plant. They no longer abide as part of the plant. They no longer receive nourishment and life, and they will no longer be able to share the color, beauty, and joy that they once did.
Friends, Jesus invites us to abide in his love so that his joy might be in us. So that joy, “the fruit of the spirit” as they call it, might be produced in our lives. Now there are many discussions about the difference between joy and happiness, and we have talked about it here in Oldtown several times. Happiness is an emotion we experience when good things happen to us or around us. Happiness is more dependent on external circumstances matching our desires. Joy is an emotion that’s dependent on what occurs inside of us, like when we develop an appreciation or thankfulness for the little things in life, or when we have faith in something larger than ourselves and our circumstances. Now being happy isn’t a bad thing; it’s far from it! But happiness occurs more naturally as a result of good circumstances taking place.
As we all know, life doesn’t always go as we plan it. And since we can’t rely on having good circumstances all the time, we need to make sure that we are connected to something bigger than us, something that can feed us and fill us, something that shows us unconditional love and grace and fills us with joy no matter what is happening around us.
Our scripture reading today tells us that one way to do that is to remember that God is the vine and we are the branches, that we are connected to something greater than we can imagine. Something that feeds us and sustains us and gives us abundant life!
Folks, the amazing part is that when we abide in Christ and follow Jesus, not thinking that we are perfect or that we are better than anyone else, but on the contrary remembering that we are connected to God and to one another, we experience a sense of belonging, a sense of connectedness, and a sense of joy that comes from within. So that no matter where we are, or what we are doing, or what circumstances we are facing, we are assured of God’s love and God’s grace in our lives. When that happens, we can’t help but share it with others. It’s like a warmth and a light that shines out of us without us even knowing it.
I found that the kindness of strangers was awesome this week as I adjusted to my new surroundings. From the people at a diner telling us the best appliance store in the area, to the helpful people in stores that must have recognized my lost look as I scanned looking for signs that might lead me to what I was trying to find. From the delivery guys who brought our new refrigerator and couldn’t be friendlier telling me inside scoop about places to go in town. to my patient neighbors who not only have been tolerant of my dog barking but they also haven’t complained about my husband backing his box truck into the driveway as it beeps loudly at 10pm!
The first night we were there, as Dan backed into the driveway, and the truck’s reverse beeping started, the woman across the street opened her front door and stared out into the night. I thought to myself, “Oh great! Qay to meet your new neighbors!” I thought that she might be upset, but when we saw that it was us, she smiled and waved with all that she had. I was so relieved! The next day when I saw her outside, I apologized for the late-night noise. She just laughed and said that she wasn’t upset. She said she was actually excited because she thought she was getting a delivery!
When it really comes down to it, it wasn’t the actions that each person did to help me this week as much as their smiles or their waves that warmed my heart. Their kindnesses reminded me of today’s scripture, helping me to remember that though I may be new in town, surrounded by new people and places, we are all connected! Their smiles also reminded me of Amelia’s smile from our storybook today, and I realized just how much a simple gesture of kindness can change another person’s outlook.
My friends, there are so many people in the world today that are hungry and homeless. There are so many people who are fighting addiction and illness. There are so many people who are facing financial difficulty who struggle with their faith or have no faith at all, people who are grieving the loss of loved ones who face difficulty and conflict in their families, people who are new in town or who are overwhelmed and overburdened and hanging by their last thread. On the outside, they look just like you and me – they may even be you or me – and it’s important for us to remember that our job is not to fix them, or change them, or
solve their problems for them. Our job is to be kind to them, to remind them that they are not alone, that as human beings, we are all connected. And though they might be facing a tough situation right now, there are still good things in the world. As our storybook told us, there are cookies and songs about cookies, dances and shows, and bouquets of flowers and pizzas and subways. There are people knitting, and memories, and pigeons, and, of course, smiles!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, be nice to the people you meet. Remember to smile and wave and share a kind word with those who are least expecting it. Share the joy that you have within yourself, reminding every person through simple acts of kindness that they are loved, never forgetting that you are too!
My friends, may it be so, thanks be to God. Amen!